Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Editorial: The Cotton Dispute. (1929)

Editorial from the September 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

The dispute in the cotton industry arose out of a decision by various employers’ associations to reduce wages by 12½ per cent. from July 29th. The operatives balloted on the question of accepting the reduction and decided by a large majority not to do so. Conferences arranged by the Ministry of Labour failed to secure agreement and a lock-out of nearly 500,000 operatives began on July 29th. The position of the locked-out workers was not improved by a recommendation of the Executive Council of one section, the Operative Spinners Amalgamation, in favour of accepting the principle of a reduction, the amount to be decided in course of negotiation. A delegate meeting, however, by a substantial majority refused to give its executive authority to enter into negotiations on this basis, and after 11 days the workers’ side was again united in its refusal.

On August 10th the Prime Minister intervened, and on August 15th it was announced that both sides had agreed to arbitration. Work was resumed at the old rates pending the award of the arbitrators, who were empowered to examine the merits of the employers’ demand for a reduction and determine “whether and, if so, to what extent, the employers’ claim to a reduction of wages is sustained.” (Manchester Guardian, August 16th.) Both sides pledged themselves to abide by the award. The arbitrators were five in number, including the Chairman. Two, Mr. C. T. Cramp and Mr. A. G. Walkden, were trade union officials.

The plea put forward by the masters was the usual one that trade is bad and a wage reduction would help the industry out of its depression.

Mr. Ogden, President of the Amalgamated Weavers, gives the answer. He tells how the same plea was made in 1920, and again in 1922.
“In 1920 wages were 215 on the list. I believed that a reduction of wages would help trade and give better employment. We accepted a reduction of 70 per cent. on list prices. The improvement did not materialise, but two years later the employers came to us again and asked for another 50 per cent cut. This, in all, meant a reduction of between 12s. and 15s. a week. . . .” (Daily Herald, August 1st.)
The pre-stoppage average pay of the men operatives was 47/- a week (according to the Ministry of Labour), and
“there are married men piecers in the spinning rooms who are paid as little as 25s. a week. Four-loom weavers on full time, with all their looms running, get only about £2 a week and to have full time at the mills and all looms fully working is very far indeed from the general experience in the cotton industry to-day.”—(Daily Herald, August 16th.)
Further reductions in pay will no more solve that ever-present problem of capitalism —over-production—than did the earlier ones. The Labour Party’s alternative solution is re-organisation and amalgamation with a view to increasing sales by means of cheaper and more efficient production. This means, in effect, making still more fierce the competition between Lancashire and its foreign rivals—a “remedy” which will but aggravate the disease.

There has been much mutual congratulation because arbitration was accepted and thus “reason” triumphed over “force.” It is necessary to point out, therefore, what is the real function and nature of arbitration. It is no more than a means of measuring up the strength of the opposing sides at a given moment and giving an award accordingly. Arbitration does not obviate the need for the workers to organise with a view to withholding their labour when conditions enable them, by so doing, to bring a certain pressure to bear. It does not bring peace into industry, nor supplant the struggle between those who own the machinery of production and those who operate it; nor does it materially affect the level of wages.

Professor Henry Clay, President of the Section of Economic Science of the British Association, dealt with this subject in a general way in his 1929 address. (See Times, 3rd August, 1929.) He summed up as follows :—
“Arbitration did not, because it could not, materially affect the economic factors that ultimately determine what wages can be paid; and the course of wages, as formulated by arbitration, was much the same as it would have been —with a time-lag and less uniformity —had there been no arbitration. In other words, the arbitration authorities interpreted—and interpreted with fair accuracy—forces which they could not in any case control.”
We would, in passing, commend to the operatives two things for them to ponder over. One is the fact that wage reductions are as much the order of the day when capitalism is administered by the Labour Party as at other times, and the Labour Government, like its predecessors, declines to side with the workers against the employing class.

The second is a gem from the Daily News. The Daily News wholeheartedly welcomed the setting-up of the Arbitration Board, a Board, be it remembered, whose terms of reference were to consider a reduction in wages. Four days later (20th August) its editorial contained a little sermon on revolution. It pointed out first that the British working man “is not impressed by talk of revolution.”

Then it added, with unconscious humour, “He prefers to listen to sensible talk about higher wages and better conditions.”

The award is for a reduction in pay of approximately 6¼ %, thus reducing the employer’s wages bill by £2,225,000 a year (see Daily Telegraph, 24th August). It was agreed to by all the members of the Board, including the two trade union officials.

The Board’s award will doubtless leave the British working man still preferring to listen to “sensible talk about higher wages.”

The Dictatorship in Russia. (1929)

Book Review from the September 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union.” By V. Molotov. Published by Modern Books, Ltd. 80 pp. Price : One Shilling.

This book deals very frankly with the internal problems of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has consistently maintained that the upheaval in Russia accomplished the overthrow of the absolute monarchy, and was a revolution only in the sense that the power of the land­ owners was shattered, and the obstacles to development along Capitalist lines were swept away. In the early days of the Bol­shevist regime, the Communist Parties in this and other countries claimed that Russia was the first country to achieve Socialism. Whilst due credit was given the Bolshevists for their intentions and actual achievements, we exposed this harmful contention—even at the risk of antagonising would-be suppor­ters who failed to grasp the real signifi­cance of Russian events. Our standpoint has been amply justified by the evidence during the last ten years or so, and the Communist Parties do not as often make this untenable assertion, realising, perhaps, that conditions in Russia could not be cited as an advertisement for Socialism. There is, however, one erroneous and harmful assertion that is still being spread about, namely, that in Russia the working class is supreme, or, in their own vague phraseo­logy, that there is a “Dictatorship of the Working-class.”

This assertion is made repeatedly in Molotov’s book, but, unfortunately for the author, he has himself supplied in this work the evidence which proves the absurdity of his claim.

In the first chapter (p. 13) he states :—
“Our Party cannot be regarded as separate from the mechanism and the whole system of the proletarian dictatorship. The Party is one of the most important organs of that dictatorship, it embodies within itself the leading role of the working-class in the proletarian revolution.“
From this quotation the impression is gained that in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union there is a preponderance of working-class members, but this is not, and never has been, the case.

The following quotation is from page 16:—
“The Party decided at its Thirteenth Congress that more than half of its members must be workers from the bench; that was more than four years ago. That task could not be realised within a year, and it has not been realised as yet. A year ago the Central Committee again resolved to take up this task, which was to be realised in the course of two years. The year which has elapsed since that decision of the Central Committee has shown that if we proceed at the present rate of recruiting workers into the Party, that task will not be accomplished by the end of the two years. “
So it is evident that in spite of periodical “recruiting drives,” working-class mem­bers are still in a minority in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. When we take into consideration a statement (p. 22) that the proportion of industrial workers in the Party has remained practically stationary since the beginning of 1925, the prospects of achieving their limited objective in the course of the next few years is extremely doubtful.

Is the Russian Working-Class Communist?
On page 23 we are told that, according to the Central Statistical Department, there were 7,148,000 industrial workers (including factory and transport workers, agricultural labourers, builders, and handicraft workers) in the U. S. S. R. in 1927-1928. The proportion of these in the Party is 7.7 per cent. For factory workers only, numbering 2,900,000, the proportion is 11.9 per cent. Amongst transport workers Communists constitute 14 per cent.; amongst building workers and workers in small and handicraft industries there are 5 per cent. Communists; the oil-workers and workers in the printing industry have the highest percentage of Communists (18.5 per cent.); the leather, metal, chemical, and food workers have a percentage of Communists slightly below this figure, whilst agricultural workers lag behind with only 1 per cent. It is true, of course, that figures can be juggled with, but the magician is not born who could prove from these figures that the phrase “Communist Russia” is other than a figment of pious imaginations. The only deduction to be drawn is that 7.7 per cent. of an “insignificant” fraction of the population of the U.S.S.R. (i.e., the industrial workers) are “Communists,” and only a very tiny percentage of the “overwhelming mass” (i.e., the peasants, etc.) is “Communist,” and that this 7.7 per cent. of all industrial workers constitutes only a minority (42 per cent.) in a party which claims to be the party of the working-class.

Even so, it may be urged, does not the huge aggregate of 1½ million members of the C.P. prove that the population of Russia is far more advanced, politically, than that of any other country ?“Where else in the whole world can be found such a huge body of Marxists? But Molotov himself informs us that membership need not necessarily imply the possession of Socialist knowledge or even a Socialist outlook.

Is the level of Russian Communists high?
It may quite fairly be inferred that Molo­tov’s work would not be needed if all was well with the Party of the U.S.S.R. On page 14 he states :—
“But the question of the development of the Party was always bound up primarily with the question of bringing the most progressive elements of the working-class into its ranks.

Parallel with this the Party has, in the course of the last ten or eleven years, keenly considered the question of cleansing its ranks of alien elements, of people who joined it under false colours, and of degenerates.

Intensive recruiting of working men and women to the Party was inevitably bound up with the purging of the Party organisations of socially and ideologically alien elements.“
Again on page 25 :—
“Many examples could be given to show that non-party workers complain of the low cultural and political level of Communists. These are facts.“
On page 28 he writes :—
“The figures on the October recruitment show that 45 per cent. or almost half of the new workers accepted to the Party have an industrial standing of less than 5 years.“
And on page 34 :—
“It must be realised that we cannot postpone any further the problem of a cardinal improvement, the question of cleansing and renovation of our rural ranks. If we are not simply talking, but are seriously undertaking to advance and gradually to transform agriculture, the present make-up of our rural organisations can by no means be satisfactory to us. We find in our rural organisations a considerable percentage of elements incapable of realising these tasks, elements who even work directly against their realisation. (Our italics.)
On page 53 there is a letter of resignation from a member of the Party. The following is an extract therefrom :—-
“The workers say it is high time to have a general cleansing of the Party, and the fact that many are labelled as workers need not stop us, for under this label plenty of filth has crept into the Party. Let there be but half of the members left, but the Party should be of flint and not of jelly. … If you throw all self-seekers out of the Party, for which the help of the broad non-party masses is necessary, resignations will become less frequent. “
And finally on page 59 :—
“On the other hand, an out-and-out opportunist Right deviation from the Leninist line has lately raised its head in the Party …. The Right deviation has entered the scene at a moment when our economic situation has be­ come acute. But the Right deviation is not exclusively a result of the economic situation of this year. The roots of the Right Wing tendency are no doubt deeper than that.

The Right deviation cannot be regarded as a temporary and rapidly passing phenomenon“. (Our italics.)
The above quotations are ample proof that the Socialist movement need not look exclusively to Russia for guidance in the tasks which lie before it.

The Rural Party Organisations. 
In the early days of the Bolshevist regime, and right up to the present time, we have pointed out that the existence of a population which is 80 per cent. peasant in character, would prove not only a stumbling block, but an insuperable obstacle to the attainment of Socialism in Russia. The Bolshe­vists have throughout attempted to apply Lenin’s formula :—
“The supreme principle of the dictatorship is to preserve the alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry, so that the former may retain its leading position in the government.”
In practice, however, the application of this formula has tended to strengthen the position of the peasantry, particularly the rich peasants, whose influence acts as a brake on all attempts even at land “nation­alisation.” Molotov gives figures of the Central Statistical Department which show that the rich farmers constitute a far higher relative percentage of Rural Party members than any other category, and, further, that the relative strength of workers in the Rural Party organisations is only 25 per cent., agricultural labourers working for wages being about 8 per cent. In view of these facts it is not surprising to find that Government schemes for the reconstruction of agriculture are rendered abortive. Regarding the Government farms, about which we have heard such rosy accounts, Molotov states :—
“Nine-tenths of the government farms have no Communist nuclei. Only 7,280 workers on government farms, out of a total of 140,000 be­ longing to the agricultural union, e.g., 5 per cent., are Communists. Such is the state of affairs in the government farms.“ (P. 32.)
The position in relation to the collective farms is much the same :—
“But here is a remarkable thing about the question of the role of the Party organisation in collective farming. Only a little over 4 per cent. of all rural Communists belong to collective farms. Of the 311,000 rural Communists only a little over 13,000 belong to collective farms. The fact that only 4 per cent. of the Communist farmers belong to collective farms is very ominous.“
With regard to the success in organising collective farms, an illustration is afforded by the following passage :—
“The non-Party peasants gladly came in, but the rich Party member, Ivan Gussev, categorically refused to join us for fear that our farm should fall to pieces and that he would not get his land back.

By this refusal he undermined the organisa­tion. Ivan Beliakov agitates against the collective farm, telling the peasants that the Party is wrong in urging them to organise collective farms. We have quite a few such Party members. The well-to-do Communists who possess their own farms not only do not agitate in favour of collectivism, but are definitely against it.“ (P.33.)
The suggested remedy of cleansing the ranks of alien elements, however, will not help to put Socialist ideas into the heads of the “overwhelming mass,” who have no desire to assist in schemes of “Socialist reconstruction” against their immediate interests. What the peasants want is private ownership.

So much for “the alliance with the peasantry” and the “leadership of the working-class” ! But other sores are exposed in the book.

The Rise of Bureaucracy.
Communists are apt to talk largely about “smashing the State machinery” and “building our own State,” but when the Bolshevists came into power they found that the working-class was inexperienced, and that very few among them were capable of organising the industries of the country, owing to lack of technical knowledge and training. The Bolshevists were compelled therefore to rely upon technical experts and men skilled in administrative functions, who were, in many instances, hostile to them and friendly to the old regime. Although much has been done since then to train members of the working-class for these vital positions, it is nevertheless admitted that “the old officialdom of the apparatus leaves its imprint on some of the Communists working there” (p. 37). In the Communist Party of the Soviet Union there are no less than 35 per cent. of Government office wor­kers. Obviously, as in the case of the rich farmers, a considerable proportion of these have joined the Party from motives other than the advancement of Socialism. On page 41 Molotov says plaintively,
“Is not perhaps the reason why we had so many excesses in applying Article 107 (which deals with the concealment of grain by peasants) and general distortion in the work of our local institutions, that rich peasant and White Guard elements get into some of the organs of our Government machinery and deliberately distort the policy of the Soviet Government, and mock the instructions of the superior government and Party institutions without ever being punished for it?”
So it will be seen that Russia is by no means immune from the diseases common to all capitalist countries.

The Trade Unions.
The existence of Trade Unions, which we are told embrace nine-tenths of the workers, is an indication that the class-struggle is just as much a reality in Russia as else­ where. As might be expected, these institutions suffer in full measure from the defects which characterise them in all countries. Molotov complains that the “leaders” have lost contact with the masses and are mainly reactionary in outlook, whilst ” there is much to be desired in the development of trade-union democracy” (page 49).

It is shown that Managers of Trade Unions are capable of evicting tenants as brutally as any British slum house-owners. Some shocking examples of Jew-baiting in large factories reveal an appalling back­wardness amongst the workers in the grasp of elementary Trade Union principles.

There certainly appears to be much scope for Socialist propaganda amongst the Russian Trade Unionists.

With regard to the Co-operatives, they have the same “petit-bourgeois” outlook as their counterparts in other countries. There is a casual allusion to the Red Army, showing that in it there are about 100,000 Communists (page 20). As the Red Army is about 800,000 strong, this is 12½ per cent.

The remedy advanced by the author for all the diseases encountered by the Bolshe­vists within their Party is to carry on a struggle against each of them. In no instance is an attempt made to find and destroy the cause of the disease.

There is one way by which the Bolshevists could mitigate the effects of these diseases and others which will of necessity arise from the economic conditions, and that is to make the utmost use of their opportunities to spread Socialist ideas broadcast amongst the workers in Russia. No other course can replace this. “Make Socialists ” is a sounder, if a less soundful, slogan than any yet coined in Russia.

The book could be improved by the dele­tion of much repetition of the same argu­ments and phrases. Otherwise it is force­ fully written and contains useful data.
W. J.